It seems to me that we spend much of our lives seeking and creating comfort. From the very first comforting nursery we are placed in, to classrooms that make us feel happy and safe, to jobs with “security” and all the way to a comfortable retirement.
Not all of that is bad, of course, but what if we’re creating comfortable habits we unconsciously turn to in the same way some people use comfort foods?
We know it’s bad to use food as a salve for emotional pain or elation. Because mac n’ cheese doesn’t really help when you’ve been told you suck as a friend, worker, confidant or date. And gummy bears or Ben & Jerry are not really our friends when we’re celebrating a promotion, weight loss (oh the irony..) or a personal milestone. It’s empty. Because food cannot fulfill like real relationships do.
Relationships are hard work though. Ben & Jerry are $4.99 and only require you have a close relationship with a spoon.
But whether or not you have a twisted relationship with food, I’m finding more and more we have twisted relationships with our habits that tie us to comfort.
*We shop at the same stores, in the same departments for the same type of clothes or meals or DVDs we’ve always bought.
*We go to the same synogagues, churches, community events and social gatherings that we always have.
*We read and reread the same things, year after year. Not stretching our imaginations or mental worlds, just reinforcing what’s already there.
*We cling to the same relationships whether or not they are good for us and continue to take the calls, the emails, the visits from people who do not enrich our lives, past or present.
Even in the smallest ways we cling to the comfort that we know:
*the same car insurance since we turned 16
*the same habits of paying bills and mailing a check
*the same phone plan
*the same flowers in the yard, food in the garden
*the same service providers, doctors, medicines and pharmacy we’ve always used
This is not necessarily bad – it’s good to have a preference and stabilizing to have a routine. But are you letting the comfort of the known prevent you from experiencing something amazing? Will you take the risk of the unknown and discomfort that comes with it to experience something that, quite literally, puts you in amazement?
Is it worth discomfort to be able to say “I am so glad I gave this a try!” or “I never knew it could be this simple” or “I am saving so much time and money.”
Most change requires time and it’s not my intent to advise changing your entire life for the sake of experience. But if the only thing holding you back is discomfort I have one thing to say: get over it.
You can do the work to gather the numbers from 8 or 9 insurance companies, the information they need and make some calls. Yes, it’s work. No, it’s not fun. But the payoff can be huge!
You can pull out some of the foods that have sat forgotten in your pantry for ages and try them for dinner. Maybe you never eat rice pilaf with meatloaf and it’s a little uncomfortable. Get over it.
You can donate those clothes gathering dust in the closet, the books languishing on your shelf and the movies you never watch. Sure, it’s uncomfortable – what if you want them later and don’t have them? But there’s a payoff. Besides simply relieving yourself of the mental stress of holding on to what is comfortable without regard to the cost, you conquer the fear that comes from stepping into the unknown.
Is it scary to travel alone to a place you’ve never been? Can be.
Is it intimidating to join a new knitting group, book club, church family or dog park and become the newbie? Can be.
Is it a pain to track down those addresses so you can finally send birthday cards that have languished for months? Yes (speaking from experience here).
But the reward is worth more than the discomfort. The beauty of a place unseen and what you learn along the way. The new friends who join your social circle. Recognizing a friend for who they are in your life. Those things can’t be experiences when you choose to avoid fear and discomfort at all costs.
Recognizing the signs is difficult and will vary. My cues are subtle and like to hide behind reason. Damn Nancy Drew books of my childhood!
*When I say, “I’ll do that as soon as I have….” I know I’m avoiding. Instead I stop and say “I am putting this on my calendar with a reminder to gather what I need to make it happen.”
*When I think, “I’m not sure if I should…” I know I’m afraid. Instead I communicate my uncertainty by asking “would you like me to do….. if so, what exactly do you need and when? I will let you know if that’s feasible.”
*When I consider, “I could never…” I know I’m intimidated. Instead of the end goal (millions for retirement, maintaining a goal weight, reading all the books on my list), I make myself a smaller goal that is feasible. Baby steps. It’s a great thing because you don’t approach a baby and insist they run the mile in 7 minutes. You teach them to sit. To crawl. To hobble. To walk. To run. You try to get them to stop running. Then to run a mile. Then to run a mile in 7 minutes. Why does it seem so simple when we talk about the natural physical abilities of children but it’s so hard to implement for so many other goals?
Again, upending your entire life in order to experience change and a little discomfort is unwise. Start with something today you’ve been putting off. Are you afraid or unwilling to get uncomfortable? Get over it. The best part of this cycle that I’ve found is that I quickly get comfortable with that which was once scary and uncomfortable. That cycle? That’s personal growth.